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Original photo by Tim Gainey/ Alamy Stock Photo
7 of History’s Strangest Coincidences
Read Time: 5m
Article image
Original photo by Tim Gainey/ Alamy Stock Photo

In their 1989 paper "Methods for Studying Coincidences," math professors Persi Diaconis and Frederick Mosteller defined a coincidence as a "surprising concurrence of events, perceived as meaningfully related, with no apparent causal connection."

It's an apt definition, but it doesn't quite do justice to those coincidences that tie together people and places in a way that almost makes you wonder whether something supernatural is going on. Here are seven such coincidences — some of historical significance, others just downright mind-blowing — that have rational people questioning the odds of just how things could have unfolded that way.

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John Adams and Thomas Jefferson Both Died on the 50th Anniversary of Independence Day

Illustration of four of the United States Founding Fathers.
Credit: Stock Montage/ Archive Photos via Getty Images

Founding Fathers John Adams and Thomas Jefferson seemingly shared some kind of cosmic connection. After striking up a friendship at the 1775 Continental Congress, they teamed up to draft the Declaration of Independence, concurrently served in Europe as American diplomats, and became the second and third U.S. Presidents, respectively, before partisan fighting drove them apart. But they reignited a regular correspondence in their golden years through the cusp of the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration on July 4, 1826. That day, as he lay on his deathbed, Adams reportedly delivered his final words, "Thomas Jefferson survives," not realizing his old friend and former rival had passed away a few hours earlier.

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2of 7

John Wilkes Booth's Brother Saved the Life of Abraham Lincoln's Son

President Abraham Lincoln, his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, and three of their four sons.
Credit: Historical/ Corbis Historical via Getty Images

It may seem off-kilter to conflate the names Booth and Lincoln for a story with a happy ending, but that's what happened during a near-disaster at a crowded New Jersey train platform around late 1863. Then a student at Harvard, Robert Todd Lincoln found himself pressed against a train that suddenly lurched forward and spun him onto the tracks before a quick-reacting good samaritan hauled him to safety. Lincoln immediately recognized his savior as the famous actor Edwin Booth, though it took a congratulatory letter from a mutual friend for Booth to realize that he had rescued President Abraham Lincoln's oldest son. Regardless, any goodwill between the two families soon vanished when Booth's pro-Confederate younger brother, John Wilkes Booth, fatally ambushed the President in April 1865.

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Mark Twain Entered and Exited the World With Halley's Comet

Halley's Comet passes through space as seen from the Ford Observatory.
Credit: Bettmann via Getty Images

Two weeks after Halley's Comet passed its November 1835 perihelion — the point of orbit closest to the sun — a boy named Samuel Langhorne Clemens was born in Florida, Missouri. Clemens went on to worldwide fame as Mark Twain, but there was no slowing the passage of time, and in 1909, the septuagenarian author told his biographer that he expected an astronomical bookending to his days. "It will be the greatest disappointment of my life if I don't go out with Halley's Comet," he revealed. "The Almighty has said, no doubt: 'Now here are these two unaccountable freaks; they came in together, they must go out together.'" The Almighty must have listened, and on April 21, 1910, one day after Halley's Comet again reached its perihelion, Twain died from a heart attack at age 74.

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The Car That Brought About WWI Also Predicted Its End

Franz Ferdinand and his wife leaving the city hall and entering the car they get assassinated in.
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It was the event that triggered World War I, yet also seemingly carried a harbinger for when peace would return to the land. On June 28, 1914, Austro-Hungarian Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, Sophie, were shot at point-blank range by Bosnian revolutionary Gavrilo Princip as they rode through Sarajevo in their touring car. While onlookers converged on the dying royals and their assassin, no one could have grasped the significance of the car's license plate, which read AIII 118. Read another way, with the I's switched to 1's and slight changes in spacing applied, and you have 11/11/18 — the date of Armistice Day, which formally ended the Great War.

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Wilmer McLean Hosted the First Major Battle and Formal Conclusion of the Civil War

Wilmer McLean and his family sit on the porch of his house.
Credit: Library of Congress/ Getty Images News via Getty Images

Northern Virginia plantation owner Wilmer McLean was happy to cede his grounds to pro-slavery Confederates for what became the First Battle of Bull Run in July 1861. However, he was tired of the destruction by the time his plantation was again used for the follow-up battle in August 1862, and he moved his family south to the isolated village of Appomattox Court House the following year. Turns out he didn't get quite far enough away from the action, as an aide to General Robert E. Lee requested the use of McLean's new residence for a surrender to Union General Ulysses S. Grant in April 1865.

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Two Versions of “Dennis the Menace” Surfaced on the Same Day

Aerial view of several The Beano comics.
Credit: Tim Gainey/ Alamy Stock Photo

On March 12, 1951, “Dennis the Menace” appeared for the first time in the British weekly comic magazine The Beano. That same day, “Dennis the Menace” debuted in 16 American newspapers. Was it the same character arriving in different countries by way of an international distribution deal? Nope. The British Dennis, drawn by David Law, was dark-haired, scowling, and known to deliberately stir up trouble; American Dennis, from the hand of Hank Ketcham, was blonde, friendly, and more likely to foul things up through good intentions turned sour. It was reported that neither artist initially was aware of the other's work, and apparently, neither cared about any sort of copyright infringement, as both the British and American Dennis went on to long, successful runs in their respective countries.

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The “Jim Twins” Led Remarkably Similar Lives

Photo of James A. Springer, left, and his identical twin James E. Lewis.
Credit: The Denver Post via Getty Images

Finally, there's the case of James Springer and James Lewis, identical twins who went their separate ways as infants through adoption yet went on to live eerily similar lives before reuniting at age 39. Each grew up with a brother named Larry, had a pet dog named Toy, went into law enforcement, and named his first-born son James Allan (with slightly different spellings). And even if you chalk some of those matches up to genetic disposition, it doesn't quite explain how each twin somehow married a woman named Linda before following with a second wife named Betty, or how both settled on the same vacation spot at a small beach in St. Petersburg, Florida, more than 1,000 miles away from where they were separately reared in Ohio.